WVU nose guard Jason Davis vs. Virginia Tech center Jake Grove
Davis has solidified the Mountaineer defensive front after moving inside from his defense end position earlier this year. Although the switch was largely unnoticed, Davis has been a steadying force for WVU inside after the loss of Ernest Hunter.
Davis will face quite possibly his biggest challenge of the season against Grove. Although Brett Romberg of Miami gets (deservedly) a great deal of attention, Grove is an outstanding lineman who clears a lot of space for Tech's power running game.
Can Davis continue to hold his ground and occupy Grove? Or will the Tech junior be able to get movement and open the lanes for Tech's steady diet of isolation plays? WVU's rushing defense will be tested more consistently in this game than in any other this year, and it all starts in the middle.
WVU tackle Tim Brown vs. Virginia Tech defensive end Cols Colas
Quite simply, Tech's defensive ends are the overlooked linchpins in the Hokie defense. Colas is continuing the fine tradition of pressure defensive ends in Blacksburg, and WVU's success in containing Colas might be the biggest key to Mountaineer offensive success.
If Brown in particular, and WVU's tackles in general, can keep the Hokie defenders on their own side of the line, then West Virignia's running game should be productive. If they cannot, a repeat of last year's outcome is likely, when the Mountaineers managed only 33 yards rushing.
WVU defensive back Thandi Smith vs. Virginia Tech punter Vinnie Burns
Smith may not be a familiar name to many Mountaineer fans, but he's become a noticeable part of WVU's punt return team. Smith has come very close to blocking a couple of punts this year. (He actually did get a hand on one punt earlier this year, but the officials missed it and flgged him for roughing the kicker.)
Virginia Tech's special teams excellence is well known, so getting a leg up on them in that play phase could serve as a huge boost for the travelling Mountaineers. Boston College did just that, as they rode a couple of big special teams plays to hang with the Hokies in a narrow 28-23 loss.
Big game matchups often turn on the play of one or two individuals who are out of the limelight -- might this be Smith's turn?
THINGS TO WATCH
Both teams run the ball. Both teams have physical backs who squeeze maximum yardage from each carry. It's a matchup of the two best running back tandems in the country.
What's more interesting however, is that despite the similarities, the two teams get their rushing yards in different manners.
Tech still lines up with a fullback the majority of the time, and they have a good one in Doug Easlick. The Hokies run a number of isolation plays, where the fullback is isolated on a linebacker. If he makes the block, the play is usually successful. Tech also is successful with power sweeps, especially when Kevin Jones is on the field.
WVU has been more varied in their running attack, and have employed a number of zone blocking schemes and trap plays to gain yardage on the ground. Put the two teams together, and you have a clinic on rushing the football. One scheme isn't better than the other -- each coaching staff has simply done an excellent job in marrying their talent to a running scheme.
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Syracuse held the Tech rushing game in check by totally overloading against the run. The Orangemen simply put too many defenders close to the line for the Hokies to block.
That, of course, left Syracuse weak against the pass, which Tech QB Bryan Randall was able to exploit, although not successfully enough to win the game.
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WVU has faced mobile quarterbacks against UTC, Wisconsin, Maryland and Syracuse this year. In the two wins against UTC and Syracuse, opposing quarterbacks couldn't throw the ball effectively. In the two losses, the QBs did. That could be the difference in this contest as well.
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